The last decade has seen widespread disinvestment in public higher education in the United States, significantly impacting the core mission of research institutions. Nationally, funding for public higher education is down 16% in 2017 compared to 2008 (a decrease of $1,448 per student). And at public research universities like the University of New Mexico, average state funding has fallen even more precipitously in an even shorter timeframe: over 26% between 2008 and 2013. Faced with these ongoing challenges, faculty across the nation have turned to organizing and collective bargaining as one option to come together and have a strong voice on our own campuses, which has also allowed faculty to advocate for issues nationally that impact our work, our students, and our communities.
Funding for higher education in New Mexico over the past decade has seen even sharper cuts. From 2008-17, funding per student has declined over 30%. This translates to over $4,500 per student, the second largest per-student cut in the United States. And while many states began increasing public higher education funding in 2016-7, New Mexico was one of the few states to cut funding that year (a 5.8% decrease in New Mexico compared to a 2.2% increase nationally). While student enrollment peaked in New Mexico in 2012, it remains nearly as high today as it was in 2008. The rise in student tuition has adversely affected diversity in student populations. Our students take on an ever-greater financial burden in the form of tuition increases, while at the same time a crucial form of support for New Mexico students, the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship, now covers less of those increased tuition costs, dropping to a mere 60% of tuition during AY 2017-18. A recent boost in the amount covered for this academic year is good news, but it is still not sufficient to cover full tuition, and even this modest one-time “increase” was only made possible by unexpectedly low in-state enrollments of New Mexico’s most promising students for the coming academic year.
We will not be alone in New Mexico in forming a faculty union. Our colleagues at New Mexico Highlands University and at Northern New Mexico College have already joined together to bargain collectively. And as we look at the broader landscape in public higher education—both nationally and in New Mexico—we can see many other examples showing us that our united voice can advocate powerfully for our students, our campus, and our profession by forming a faculty union.